Monday, July 5, 2010

In Cars

Wow. A whole year since I last posted here. Tempis fugit, yo.


I'm driving around the other day and I see this car stalled and a guy pushing it while another guy sits in the driver's seat, and people whirring around it all impatient and stuff, and it occurs to me how I don't see people pushing cars much anymore. Is it because cars are just better now, more reliable? It seems I used to see cars being pushed a lot, back in the day.

So then I start thinking about my first car, a used '62 Renault Caravelle that my mother bought for $525 when I was 17 and starting college. It was just like this one pictured, a red convertible with 2 tops, but I imbued mine with Flower Power by sticking huge, plastic flowers all over it.

The Red Bullet.

For a while the Red Bullet had no reverse but it was small and light and I could easily push it backwards out of parking spots, but no parallel parking. The points in the voltage regulator would stick. I'd see the needle on the ammeter in the red zone and I’d get out of the car, open the trunk where the engine was, and bang the voltage regulator box with my fist to unstick the points so the battery would charge.

I had generator problems, too, resulting in lots of dead battery issues. I learned how to jump start a car. Solo, no small feat. You had to look for a parking spot that was sort of downhill. I got cozy with Speedy, the AAA guy who looked just like Sonny Bono. He came to jump start me and my car for lots of dead batteries, and sometimes I’d ride around with him on calls. Then I found out he was married. Oh, and a heroin addict.

My well-meaning but dumb friend, Harry, kindly offered to put water in the radiator for me (the Bullet overheated a lot and always needed water), but he filled up the oil tank instead. Not much happened. The Red Bullet was resilient in odd ways.

So I had to add water to it all the time and the radiator cap was on an extension hose-thing from the radiator, directly suspended above the distributor. If you got sloppy with the water, it would drip on the distributor and the car wouldn’t start or it would miss like crazy. I’d have to take the distributor cap off and take the air hose to blow all the spark plugs and connections dry. I learned a lot about cars. That car, anyway.

It was a nightmare of a car most of the time but man, it had traction. That thing hugged the road like a motherfucker; whipped down curvy canyons like a race car. "Hold true, Red Bullet." I actually would say that.

I borrowed my mom's Chevy Nova to take my brother and some of his buddies to the beach to surf. We piled the boards on the car and I tried to hurl through Topanga Canyon like I could in the Bullet, and the Nova wallowed wildly all over the road. We nearly crashed. The Nova was no Bullet.

It didn't do too well going uphill. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can ...

There was a time when the only way to stop the Bullet was to yank up the emergency brake as hard and fast as possible while pumping the foot brake to the floor, and downshifting to second gear. Somehow I avoided a catastrophe until the brakes were fixed.

Driving home from frat parties, stopping, opening the door, vomiting (I’m not proud of this). The Bullet never judged me.

Summer nights, in the wee hours of the morning, my GF, Kathy Poole and I would cruise in the Bullet over to the original Tommy's on Rampart, way before it became a chain burger place. Top down and no reverse. If you don't know L.A., Rampart is and was some bad-ass scary high-crime neighborhood, but we were 18 by then, and therefore, immortal. We smoked weed, a felony in those days, even one seed could put your ass in the Big House, and we’d head over to Tommy's for chili burgers with thick slices of beefsteak tomato and those hot little peppers, all served by ex-cons. We’d sit there bloody eyed, wolfing down our burgers amongst the bad asses. They'd offer to help, though, some of them, when they saw us pushing the Bullet.

I took the Bullet to San Francisco once, with my GF Sandy S. It didn't make it back that trip; there was LSD and a dropped clutch in Sausalito, sleeping on Stinson Beach except not sleeping because of being so high on acid. Sandy and I hitchhiked home to Burbank; it took us a couple of days because we went back through Big Sur. We met some good people along the way that gave us a ride all the way to our homes. Then I took my sister's big white Impala back up to Sausalito and jerry-rigged some kind of tow thing. and towed the Bullet home to drive another day. Only one headlight worked on my sister’s car, and I had cracked a contact lens while camping on the beach on the return trip, so the Impala and I had this one-eyed symmetry going on.

I had the Bullet for about 2 years. I got a job at Blue Cross on Sunset and bought a brand new Mazda 626 via the credit union. I traded the Bullet in but I forgot for how much. I want to say $90. It still had the flowers.

So those guys push the car, I think it was a Toyota, into the Chevron across the street. They were probably out of gas.